Reality check for women farmers and those of us working to transform the food system: There is no “9 to 5.” There’s no beginning and ending office hours, no punching in and out of a time clock and no life that fits into neat check boxes of job descriptions and parameters either. We can’t pass a weed without pulling it and we can’t turn off that part of our mind that constantly brainstorms new ways to battle the squash bugs, blend the pesto, and blog about savoring that first strawberry.
But in reality, we wouldn’t want it any other way. For us women farmers, our passions drive our work, something that fuels us 24/7 and blends those traditional boundaries of “work” and “leisure” into an energy drink like no other, driven by a collective spirit of wanting our work, our livelihood, to do more than just pay the bills. We want to transform our world into a better place.
I offer this perspective as someone seasoned in the journey of kissing off that traditional cubicle job path. When my husband, John Ivanko, and I started off post-college in the early 1990s, we fell into that expected, well-worn, traditional career path: Get a job with a paycheck, work in a corporate cubicle, get so busy that you have no time to connect with the land or your food source.
Feeling increasingly dissatisfied, we then consciously shifted our priorities when we moved to our Wisconsin farm, Inn Serendipity, where for nearly 16 years we have operated an array of green, diversified businesses, including running a B&B and authoring several books including Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance.
While typical career advice for working women talks about ways to “balance” your work and your family and personal life, I’d argue the opposite for those of us in agriculture and committed to sustainability: Dive in, work with passion, and take all the other important elements of your life with you. I talked about this topic at the “See Jane Grow” workshop at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs. Here are four reasons why such blending yields strategic sense:
1. Makes Savvy Business Sense
As we write about in detail in ECOpreneuring, crafting a self-employed livelihood around what you are passionate about will gift you beyond satisfaction in your work, it garners more income for your bottom line. By tracking and deducting expenses from business revenues, you pay less in taxes.
For example, we pay “rent” to ourselves for a percentage of the square footage of our farmhouse, the rooms we use solely for the B&B. We depreciate the cost to install our wind turbine, which produces enough electricity to cover our needs and also enable us to sell back to the utility grid, another income source. Such integration requires a shift in thinking from being a paycheck earning employee to being an entrepreneur, looking at every expense strategically and seeing how it can relate to the business and your bottom line.
2. Integrate Your Family
Working in farm and food issues enables women to involve their children directly in their work. Our son, Liam, gets involved with all aspects of the diversified businesses here on the farm, from welcoming B&B guests to helping plant the garden to running his own market stand when we have open houses and gatherings at Inn Serendipity.
This integration opportunity takes the relationship with my son to new levels that simply don’t happen in conventional job situations. Since he was a baby, we took him with to just about anything we were doing, from farming conferences to farmers’ markets. As he grew to school age, we integrated things further by deciding to home school Liam, taking advantage of these multitudes of real-life settings for to provide opportunities for him to explore and learn. His balloon dog making enterprise rocks; he spins LED poi around the campfire.
3. Strength and Creativity in Diversity
Women ecopreneurs working in agriculture and food system issues harvest a healthy dose of diversity in their daily lives. While I don’t have much of an expected daily routine, every day is doused with a healthy dose of diversity. This morning I’m finishing this piece, then prepping food for tomorrow’s B&B breakfast, hopefully working in some weeding time in between.
Such diversity strengthens my livelihood from a financial perspective, as I’m no longer relying on just one income source. If tourism goes down one season, I can do more writing work or sell more produce. Diversity also fuels creativity; moving in between different activities and projects constantly stimulates new ideas. I might come up for an opening line for a blog posting while picking pea pods. I first started thinking that our farm would be a good spot for a wind turbine while hanging laundry (and trying to get the clothes to stay on the line with all the wind!).
Diversity also extends to cultivating a network of other creative ecopreneurs to share ideas and inspiration with. The Mother Earth News Fair is a prime place to meet other kindred spirits. I met Erica Strauss of Northwest Edible Life at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, and she and I instantly become kindred-spirited, soul sister friends across the miles. Erica wrote a sweet blog post on the experience.
4. Independence and Self-Reliance
This self-employed, ecopreneurial lifestyle appeals to us women in agriculture as we see the opportunities in calling our own shots. By having the freedom and authority to make decisions, from what kind of paper I put in our printer (100% post-consumer waste recycled) to what kind of food I serve at the B&B (mostly organic, seasonal and from our gardens), I can create a livelihood that fully reflects my and my family’s values, not someone else’s agenda.
The independence aspect of being an ecopreneur also increases self-reliance. We’ve always run Inn Serendipity as lean and green as possible, always questioning every purchase and, if we need it, how can we make the “greenest” purchase we can. By doing things like raising our own food and generating our own power, we need less in cash income, providing us the freedom to be selective in taking on paid work that reflects our values and our “earth mission” of leaving this world a better place.
Lisa Kivirist presented a workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.